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Why Art Criticism Sucks Right Now (Spoiler Alert: It’s Racist): Some Context and Suggestions (2019) Torey Akers. An insightful meta-critique of art criticism. It’s focused on North America and its commercially driven art markets but many aspects of critique apply across different western art scenes. The text starts off by referencing recent blunders art medias have made (which I’d need to know a lot more about to understand), then it offers a miniature history of art criticism (at its best it was an attempt to expose cultural power structures for the public, motivated by the French revolution) and ends by providing a list of people to follow (spotted Jessica Lynne, whom I heard at Pioneer Works last fall). The text also drafts guidelines on how to make art criticism more diverse and ethical (better).

Akers urges artists to learn how to read criticism: “Artists I’ve covered often can’t tell the difference between a standard write-up (this person made something!) and a review (the thing this person made was fine, weird, spectacular, useless, etc.).”. My experience has been that in Finland artists are very sensitive to how they are written about and how their work is mediated. Perhaps due to a fear of being misunderstood they seldom provide texts or engage in dialogue which could be used as material for creative writing. As a writer I’m often left guessing what the art is, which leads to non-opinionated or even anti-opinionated texts that describe the artwork or the creative scene the work emerges from, instead of engaging with it. Artists feel scorned if I use a wrong tone. I’ve found that the safest way to write is to first draft texts into my blog, then to ask for feedback from the artists and if I get a positive response, only then continue with the text (this cumbersome procedure makes me almost an un-payed employee of the artist).

I think in many Finland artists view art writing and mediation only as marketing, not joined creative thinking.

The art world, corrupt and opaque as it is, needs diversity of voice to mount any believable attempt at contrition; improvement, if we’re being optimistic. Old-school gatekeeping has long proven the enemy of progress. […] The landscape privileges clumsy, Caucasian cowardice above all else, and whatever content manages to escape the tonal clutches of a press release is usually engineered specifically for viral ire, to say nothing of International Art English’s recklessly pestilential effect over the last decade.

Nearly a century ago, Walter Benjamin opined, “Criticism is a matter of correct distancing… It was at home in a world where perspectives and prospects counted, and where it was still possible to adopt a standpoint. Now things press too urgently on human society.”

There it is—collaboration with artists rather than short-sighted conspiracy against them, institutional critique in service of concerted efforts at transparency. That is the non-monologic model artists deserve. An absence of immediate relatability should not hamper any responsible writer from reflecting upon the merits of an art work, and it’s up to us to reverse the tides of obtuse equivocation to which we’ve grown accustomed. White writers (this one included!) can, should, and must take accountability for art criticism’s eye-watering suckage in 2019.

Place Language (2019) a collaborative sound-landscape project looking to catalogue depictive landscape terms across the globe.

The quiet hope of ‘Landmarks’ was to ‘re-wild’ even a little of our available language for landscape, to celebrate and disseminate the extraordinary ‘word-hoard’ of coinages that has flourished historically – but thinned recently – for seeing, naming, and knowing aspects of place and its more-than-human life – Robert Macfarlane

Ei läsnäoloa, kiitos! Ahdistuksesta, uupumuksesta ja kapitalismista [No presence, thanks! On anxiety, exhaustion and capitalism] (2019) Laura Hautsalo. A nice text which (among other things) exposes that mainstream media maintains a black-market for depression survival and burnout recovery stories. These black-markets feed the neoliberal narrative, that we can overcome structural injustices by freeing our minds. Hautsalo refers to Rosi Braidottis 2019 talk Necropolitics and ways of Dying (which I’m looking forward to listening). The text fits well with Kim Modigs lates Tarjoilija, festivaalissani on liikaa teoksia [Waiter, there are too many artworks in my festival]. Modig argues that some artists and festivals are producing artworks merely to appear busy and that this extensive programming makes enjoying art difficult. He also urges artists to join artists unions to combat precarisation.

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Visited Performance and Feminism seminar at TeaK. I went particularly for Marina Valle Noronhas and Kim Modigs Performing professionalism: Why do we travel for art and what does it do to us? talk but stayed for Lim Paik Yins movie and Minna Harris presentation about time. The three presentations formed a loose arch, which dealt with ecology and challenges caused by development. The Performing professionalism… was a performance. The stylish duo played a prerecorded sound piece while sitting confidently in front of the crowd. I interpreted the presentation as an attempt to problematize the image of the contemporary creative (art) professional, whose relevance is measured by the amount their international flights and prestige appetites, which attempt to transcendent the limits of bourgeoisie taste (and end up being mega-bourgeoisie).

Yins movie IN[formal] INTERchange (2018) offered a good contrast to the critique. She had conducted interviews (video-voip) with various amateur(?) practitioners of performance art in the Southeast Asian region. The performers talked candidly about their relationship to performance art while engaging in various joined performances (or performance exercises) with each other and the Yin. The film was appealing because it used low-key/accessible esthetics and utilized consumer services (such as Skype) for artistic research. It reminded me that there are global alternatives and strategies that work against the performance of professionalism.

Made a short teaching gig to Hyvinkää for middle to high-school aged kids who take art classes at Willa Arttu. I continued with the “Poststructuralism for Kids” program. We talked about strikes and how the act of “striking” halts movement (which offers a good time to contemplate what to do next) and practiced halting trough contact improvisation. After this we played with doors. We explored what doors are (the kids had some really smart ideas: gates to new dimension etc.) and then we experimented with different ways of opening a doors and discussed about the experience. Used this door opening tutorial (1979) as reference. I’ll do a full write up after the last gig.

Also dabbled with electronics during the week. Scavenged smd components from a failed project and used them to make a voltage regulator for a headlight (9v-to-5v) and a assembled solder smoke removal fan.

I’m making electronics to energize my grant application process. I’ve prepared 16 pages for a five year plan. Five years is not enough. The application consists of an array of loosely linked projects and ideas, some of which are framed as development motifs for work that will be executed around 2038. I’m currently most excited about the idea to organize Smithing in Public Spaces forging workshops. I’ve written the texts so that Jesse can use them in his personal grant applications too. If everything goes as planned we’d host public forging workshops in open city spaces, during which participants would learn how to mend and make metal things. The workshops will also serve as a vessel for collecting stories partisipants tell of metal objects they hold dear.

Catching up on Critical Making. Design and the Construction of Publics (2009) Carl DiSalvo.

[…] the notion that publics are “constructed” is perhaps most salient to contemporary design because it prompts a consideration of the means by which publics are assembled; begging the question: “How does, or might, design contribute to the construction of publics?” [John Dewey]

[…] inquiry into design and the construction of publics begins with a more thorough understanding of the Deweyan public. The assertion that publics are not a priori existing masses is central to the notion of the construction of publics. The public is not something that has been and always will be. It is neither universal nor an abstraction. […] for Dewey, the public is an entity brought into being through issues for the purpose of contending with these issues in their current state and in anticipation of the future consequences of these issues.

As designers and educators, [Anthony] Dunne and [Fiona] Raby are well known for their development of “Critical Design,” which they regard as an alternative to mainstream design in that the goal is the use of design to expose and explore the conditions and trajectories of contemporary design rather than the utilitarian problem-solving or surface-styling that has historically characterized design (particularly industrial design).

By the contributions of design, will publics inherit problematic qualities of being “engineered” or “commodities”? Such concerns are legitimate and substantial. The subject of design ethics should go hand-in-hand with the construction of publics, and have a significant place in future discourse.

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SOW Blacksmith ed.1 spotted in the wild as a part of a Novation Circuit Sample Set! Some new entries in the Freesound.org comment page on the collection too. Feels really good to see the pack in use!

Ordered parts for a second Lorre-Mill uTone building session (more on that later – Planning to attach the unit to a 42hp blank eurorack panel). Also got parts for a PMFoundations Clock Divider (Eurorack PCB set). I now have an elementary set of modulation tools in the works. I’ll start compiling the units next month. The uTone will likely be build at Oodi. Odered parts from Digi-Key on Friday and they are already in Helsinki!

Saw dance works at Zodiak. Mira Kautto: Station to Station to Station was a faux-one-person-techno-party, framed as a reminiscence of the traces that past performances had left in the dancers body. Laura Jantunen: Talvi  was a monotonous, repetitive and pattern orientated piece. It placed human bodies and abstract electronic patterns on the same plane. I liked the experience of looking at human movement as a pattern but disliked the academic/neutral-tone of the work. For me the performance felt like a display of the concepts of repetition and patterns, rather then an exploration of them. Kimmo liked work a lot and their text on the piece is a good read THE CIRCUIT I NEED: TALVI, A CHOREOGRAPHY BY LAURA JANTUNEN  (2019) Kimmo Modig.

Also saw Their Limbs Their Lungs Their Legs at TeaK. I enjoyed the views and read the piece as a post-humanism for kids sort of show. The outer forms of the dancer bodies where changed with various disguises. Some parts were very humorous but it didn’t offer new insight to dance.

 

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Busy two weeks. Applied funding from: AVEK (Didn’t get 3000€ funding), SKR – Uudenmaan maakuntarahasto (Didn’t get funding), Taike (Didn’t get 6 month grant) and send proposals for HAM gallery (Didn’t get a show) and Place Publique (Got positive feedback but no residency).

Also preparing a teaching gig for Kankaanpää Art School. This time we’ll be reading (Communism for Kids by Bini Adamczak, 2014), writing, moving (I’m still on Kettlebells) and voting.

Up next… Updates to my portfolio and electronics (I have a nifty set of eurorack kits in the works). I build a DIY liquid carbonation system and I can now manufacture sparkling water and sodas (currently I have a batch of Ginger-beer in the works). During the weekend I converted white wine to sparkling wine! I plan to manufacture sparkling mineral waters from regional fountains (which can be found using the brilliant loydalahde.com service) and to clone famous mineral waters (such as San Pelligriano) following guides found on the khymos.org blogpost from 2012.

A 10l batch of San Pelligriano clone would require:

Kenen ajalla elät? [On Who’s Time?] (2019) Kimmo Modig. Part 1 of 5. A thoughtful text which investigates the lived experience of people who have to sacrifice their time and to constantly change their pace, to accommodate the falsified idea that contemporary capitalism makes everything available.

Perinnön vaalimista täystuhon äärellä [Protecting Cultural Legacies in the Face of Annihilation] (2018) Anna Jensen. A bright text questioning the motives of cultural preservation. I agree with Jensen but I have to argue that not all narratives need dismantling (previous post) and putting things in the museum (or defining them as UNESCO World Heritage things) is a good strategy for positioning the things to the past, offering them for the gaze of the public (for critical re-evaluation) and nullifying their mythological force (which is the case of the Swastika symbol is a good thing).

The gilets jaunes: Giving colour to suffering (2019) Benoit Bohy-Bunel. The text starts as a rant which is difficult to follow. I only read the chapter 4 titled “Brief remarks on the ‘yellow vests’ movement”, which offers a reading to the reported right-wing elements of the movement: Some parts of the moment are racist, because the nation-state subjectivity (the crisis of which Gilets Jaunes manifests) is rooted on racism.

[…] The racist, homophobic acts present in certain demonstrations, the nationalist, populist, sexist, ableist, anti-migrant and anti-social-assistance speeches, which have met with some success in certain parts of this movement, reflect the crisis of this subject-form and the rise of crisis ideologies.

There are many testimonies of suffering or social anger in this movement. These testimonies directly question the existence of the State and capitalism, with all that they imply (racism, patriarchy, ecological destruction, ableism, ageism). But the translation of this suffering, which is made against the backdrop of the crisis of the subject-form and the diffusion of populist ideologies of crisis, is not systematically emancipatory. What would be properly subversive would be to grasp, collectively and individually, the root of this lived suffering, and the radicality that it designates, so as to counteract the reactive and identity responses to the suffering. Such a capacity is not the privilege of ideologues, even “critical” ones, who would have to “educate” the “people”. Such a capacity eventually develops in the praxis of struggle, which can induce new encounters, new awareness, and new forms of life.

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Good stuff to listen to when fixing the socks of strangers around the world (only 5 pairs to go). We had an open studio event on the weekend at ISCP. I was in a flue for the entire event and sat in the corner darning socks. A hipster complemented my stitchwork. He told me I’d make 300$ for a pair!

Anna Tsing & Donna Haraway: Tunneling in the Chthulucene (2015) University of Idaho, Moscow. A long and loose (in good way) presentation of their thinking. Tsing reminds audiences that non-human life does not live in harmony. Symbioses develop trough violence and struggle. Haraway reminds audiences how multicellular entities form: By single cell organisms attempting to eat each others, partially devouring each others bodies, getting stuck and living together anew.

Imagining infrastructures (2017) The British Academy. A (too) detailed talk about infrastructure. Partially good for developing an understanding of infra as a social, life-supporting network. It starts with an interesting analysis of air-conditioners as colonial apparatuses! The idea that people work best in climate controlled cool environments should be re-evaluated. The negative effect that air-conditioners have on communities was addressed in a recent reading group too. Air-conditioners break communities by endorsing indoor, private comfort for closed families. Manuel Tironi’s account on how communities rebuild after catastrophes is very rewarding too. He suggest that infrastructure should be approached as a social network and a compost (as defined by Haraway).

The Facebook Economy (2018) Zero Books podcast. Douglas Lain chatting with Rob Larson. They work their best to frame Facebook (and others) as monopolies and do a good job clearing out how exactly the monopolies make their profits.

Adventures in New America (2018) an afrofuturistic buddy comedy. A fun and easygoing podcast.

WRITING ABOUT ART TODAY MEANS BEING WRITTEN ONTO (2018) Kimmo Modig. Modig is developing a socio-material analysis of contemporary art-exhibition practices. They pleas for a broader acceptance of social practices (workshops etc.) as a critical medium for artistic expression. Social practices and community-building-as-art is a vital field of practice for groups and individuals, who cannot exist alone. Art practices which center on objects & orchestrated performances, advocate exclusive infrastructures. I would like to extend their critique to problematize material & energy demands object centered & orchestrated performance aesthetics rely on. Using Modigs critique we can argue that Chris Burden was more of an antibiotic artist then a performance artist. He was more hospitalized and medicated, then shot in the arm. #ॐ

Modig offers a diagram Social Anxiety Matrix #2 which can be used for analyzing personal motivations for attending art events. They argues that “Contemporary art has never been about class revolution [the temporal and generational rotation of positions of wealth past classes people are born to], but the cementing of its horizontal power structure while adding a new coat of paint on it.” which I don’t agree with. I believe that artist networks and support structures (grants, residencies etc.) are currently the best (if not only) systems for advancing the temporal and generational rotation of wealth and power. Quotes from the text below.

Public has become the primal form of new art, and exhibition the secondary one. The word public here is a (suboptimal) placeholder for assemblies, collectives, public gatherings, non-patriarchal familial constellations and so forth. […] What was once the fringe program (talks, workshops) is now the headliner. When I look around, I can see some people having not really realized this. Others are angry, even. “Why is art about the other stuff nowadays?” This is another way of saying “I”m white and feel like I can’t get enough exposure.”

Managing a nuanced perspective on things is particularly vexing when you’re feeling overwhelmed by the extreme, life-destroying urgency of climate change, for example. Often, you can catch an artist having gone through these motions and realizing that, say, flying to biennials is bad for the environment and a grueling way to live, too. So they turn their own realization into a dictum and hold everyone up to this standard of their own making.